Style | Swellboy

Swellboy on… the gentrified basketball shoe

A sports shoe that’s suitable for middle-aged snobs

Swellboy on… the gentrified basketball shoe

Image: Brijesh Patel

October 19 2010
Nick Foulkes

A year or so ago I wrote in How To Spend It about learning to love my inner jeans-wearer. Now I must report another incidence of this second sartorial childhood: my flirtation with sports footwear.

The shoe is something that needs much thought and deliberation, and if you are kind enough to read this “virtual”, internet-located column (somehow I feel that How To Spend It is simply too chic to have mere weblogs), you will know that my footwear is the subject of a complex power struggle between me, the wearer, and Eric Cook, the maker. In its complexity and opacity it resembles the epic superpower stand-off between Imperial Russia and the British Empire that lasted into the early 20th century.

Of course complex opacity takes time, and in the longueurs that inevitably occur while Eric and I play our long and strategic game to gain control over some of the finest footwear in Christendom, I divert myself occasionally by picking up other shoes; more often than not, this entails a visit to Pepe of Marbella, but of late I have become enamoured of Tod’s – not so much the classic driving moccasin, but rather the lace-up shoes that boast the nubbed rubber sole.

I had sort of made an unspoken pact with myself never to wear a pair of training shoes – I didn’t even wear them as a young person, although I did possess a pair of tangerine-coloured Converse All Stars. Very occasionally I pine for them, using the example of Steve McQueen in The Thomas Crown Affair to vindicate my choice. Although I have not seen the film for some time, I recall that in one sequence Steve McQueen wears a pair of basketball-type shoes while skulking about in the dark, to the tune of Michel Legrand’s The Boston Wrangler. And given that as T Crown Esq McQueen wears a pair of Persol 714s (the foldable version of the 649), a beautiful Cartier (which I believe is a Tank Cintrée, predecessor of the Tank Américaine) and drives a Rolls-Royce Corniche fixed-head coupé (coachbuilt by Mulliner Park Ward), I think it safe to say that in this instance the basketball shoes are acceptable wear.

What Tod’s has done is to gentrify the basketball shoe and give middle-aged snobs like me comfortable shoes to wear. While looking a little bit like ritzy plimsolls, they are made of leather and so constructed as to leave no one in any doubt that the wearer has put at least some thought into what to put on their feet rather than opting for comfort over style and wearing the sort of thing that is only really acceptable on people under the age of 20 or those involved in some form of athletic or fitness-related activity. It will not surprise you to learn that neither of these states intersects with my personal Venn diagram.

By contrast, although I could perhaps run (should I wish to or knew how to) in the pair of brown Tod’s leather “trainers”, with a pre-worn look to the white rubber sole, that I bought the other day, I do not have to. They are instead shoes made for wearing when stepping ashore from your yacht in Portofino to visit the local Loro Piana store to purchase a co-ordinating piece of cashmere knitwear for knotting loosely around one’s shoulders to ward off the evening chill – or at least that is where I am transported emotionally. Physically I am far more likely to be pedalling my bicycle around Shepherd’s Bush Green.

See also

People, Shoes, Tod's